There was Yugoslav cuisine the same way there is European cuisine. At best, Yugoslav cuisine was an amalgam of cuisines of Yugoslavia’s constituent peoples, all of which can, in turn, be easily subsumed under a grander umbrella of Balkan cuisine.

There is nary a more representative, metaphorical, and even iconic Balkan dish than sarma, or stuffed cabbage. Irina Janakievska, a Macedonia-born, London-based chef walks, me through the process of making a sarma recipe from her grandmother’s cookbook and through her journey to Balkan Kitchen. The Australian scholar, Wendy Bracewell, tells all about Yugoslav cookbooks. And Natasha Tripney, an English Serb-Yugoslav, discusses Yugonostalgic cuisine.

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Episode Transcript (and More)

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[JINGLE]

PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show exploring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your chef Peter Korchnak.

Let me start with a confession. The title of this episode is a bit of a ruse. As you’ll hear, there was no such thing as Yugoslav cuisine, the way there is French cuisine or Thai cuisine. At best, Yugoslav cuisine was an amalgam of cuisines of Yugoslavia’s constituent peoples, and an unofficial one at that, and those national cuisines could easily be subsumed under a grander umbrella of Balkan cuisine. There was Yugoslav cuisine the same way there is European cuisine.

Now, there is nary a more representative, iconic even, and metaphorical Balkan dish than sarma, or stuffed cabbage.

And today I’m gonna make one.

I’m not a chef, I barely cook anything beyond breakfast. But last summer I decided to learn how to cook Balkan dishes. Of course, sarma was on the list.

To walk me through the process of making sarma, I’ve recruited the help of an actual chef, Irina Janakievska, a Macedonia-born, London-based creator of Balkan Kitchen, a website where she explores Balkan cuisine of her ancestors and region and shares the recipes. Including one for sarma.

First, some background.

[01:18]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: Sarma is from the Turkish meaning to wrap. In the Balkans or in the region, generally sarma is made from leaves. The sarmas are what is then referred to as dolmas. So it’s a family of stuffed vegetables, onions, peppers, quartets, leaves of various sorts. And again, you find it in not just in Turkey, or the Levant, you find it wider than that in various forms. In the Balkans, sarma is always used to mean anything that’s made from leaves. So you could use fresh cabbage leaves, you can use sour cabbage leaves, sauerkraut but whole, you can use vine leaves, and you use vine leaves in summer because that’s when the vine leaves are freshest and youngest, and it’s seasonal. And also you can use chard.

[02:04]

PETER KORCHNAK: I always knew sarma as stuffed cabbage. In my native Slovakia, stuffed cabbage is a common dish, called holúbky in some areas. The Slovak holúbky is golabki in Poland or holubtsi in the Ukraine. There are versions in Germany and Sweden… But to me it’s a quintessential Balkan dish. You can find the dish, in its myriad variations, across the Balkans. There, I first tried it in Romania, where it’s called sarmale, then in Serbia and Bosnia, as sarma.

I don’t know if there have been any conflicts over the origins of sarma, but it reminds me of the story of The Song—

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE / BACKGROUND MUSIC]

Some twenty years ago now, the Bulgarian filmmaker Adela Peeva set out to find the song’s origin, only to find Albanians, Bosnians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Macedonians, Serbs, and Turks all claimed it as theirs.

Sarma is like that: it’s from everywhere. But probably Ottoman. Or Middle Eastern. Or not.

At any rate, if you want to get transported to the Balkans, whichever country or empire, in existence or not, sarma is your ticket.

[03:10]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: The preparation of sarma is probably a regional competitive sport, who makes it best. It’s a competitive sport even within families. You know, in my family, I remember very long debates about who made the best sarma and my grandmother or my mom. And you know, and you have to kind of sit very quietly and be very objective and say they’re not comparable because you both use slightly different methods to finish the dish. But they are both delicious. And please make more.

[03:39]

PETER KORCHNAK: Reminds me of the Slovak Christmas staple, kapustnica, or sauerkraut soup. Every family makes it in its own way.

Ajde, let’s make some sarma.

First things first.

[03:48]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: The key for winter sarma is the sour cabbage. So households around the Balkans and around Yugoslavia would be now gearing up to prepare their cabbages for lacto fermentation which really is how you prepare the sour cabbage. Again, it’s an art form. Effectively you’re salting cabbage leaves and fermenting them over time and then they will last over winter and households will be making anything from you know, you know, 10 kilos of cabbage to 60, 100 kilos of cabbage in barrels to be stored for winter and for various dishes that are made in winter that use sour cabbage, sarma being one of them.

I’ve got actually quite a good story about this. My grandmother in Skopje, in pre-earthquake Skopje, the barrel for sarma would always be stored in the basement to the old house and in the old part of Skopje because that was where it was coolest as it was you know in many old houses. In kind of post-60 Skopje, in her brutalist apartment building, she would always make it in this giant barrel that lived on the balcony overlooking this wonderful Kenzo Tange-designed Skopje you know and there was always an element of looking after it. And so every once in a while a hose pipe would be pulled out to circulate the liquid in the barrel and you’d hear bubbling noises on the balcony.

[05:14]

PETER KORCHNAK: Pickled cabbage leaves were the biggest hurdle in my sarma saga. I didn’t have time or energy to pickle them myself so I resorted to buying a commercial product. Quite a long story short, I ended up with two different jars, one bought on the zon, the other at a Balkan shop outside Seattle, both imported from Janakievska’s homeland, North Macedonia.

The filling for the pickled cabbage leaves is much easier to source.

[05:34]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: Generally it’s filled with meat and rice. The meat is generally a mix of either veal or beef mince and mix of beef and pork but you can also make it fully vegan which a lot of people do for religious fasts before Christmas for example. You can make it from onions and leeks and rice and you can also add nuts, usually walnuts, and I’ve seen referenced some people using chestnuts as well.

[06:01]

PETER KORCHNAK: I go with a mix of beef and pork. Needless to say a halal meat version would use no pork. And some day I’ll make a vegetarian version as well.

For now, let’s get chopping.

[AMBIENT SOUND – chopping of onion and leak]

[06:12]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: You always have to start with the sarma filling and you always start with sweating some finely chopped onion and or leek in some neutral oil like sunflower oil or olive oil you can use those absolutely fine until they’re softened.

[06:24]

PETER KORCHNAK: That’s one leek and one medium-sized white onion.

[AMBIENT SOUND – frying of onion and leak]

While the onion and the leek are working up a sweat, let’s get to know our chef a little better.

[06:34]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: My name is Irina Janakievska. I was born in Yugoslavia, in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia as it now is. But I grew up in Kuwait. We moved there in the late 80s for my mother’s work. So I mostly grew up there [but] for a brief period because of the Gulf War in 1990-91. We then obviously returned to Kuwait in the wake of the Yugoslav conflict. And then I came to study in the UK in 2001, which coincided at the time of civil war in North Macedonia.

[07:01]

PETER KORCHNAK: Janakievska studied international relations and history at the London School of Economics, focusing on the Cold War in the Balkans. She later became a corporate and finance lawyer and is now a consultant solicitor.

[07:10]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: —so I would have more time to spend with my little one and my family and generally and to finally give me the flexibility to pursue this dream of mine, called the Balkan Kitchen project.

So the idea of it came about over 10 years ago after my grandmother passed away suddenly. My mother and I were sitting looking through her old cookbooks and all her recipes scribbled in notebooks and any spare bits of paper she could find, you know, remembering her. She was such an avid cookbook collector, something I’ve inherited, unfortunately. And she had one particular cookbook called Veliki narodni kuvar from 1956, which is the Great National Cookbook. As I was flicking through it, I found a recipe, next to which my grandmother had written my date of birth, and notes on how she’d made it for guests celebrating my arrival in the world. It was so touching, you know, it really struck me in that moment that I would never again be able to learn from her. So although she was such a meticulous list maker and writer, and you know, the cookbook itself is annotated beyond anything that is imaginable, especially when it comes to recipes, I could never really watch her again, bring these recipes to life and learn the things that seem so obvious to her that she didn’t write them down.

And so I thought, what if as a way of remembering her and honoring her memory, using these cookbooks she had all her written down recipes, and my mother’s recipes and stories, I set out on this journey of teaching myself to cook like her, like my mother in the long line of inspiring Balkan women in my family.

Starting on this journey was slow. Because I was working rather a lot. And cooking you know, I’d started to cook I guess as soon as I was old enough to reach my mother’s and grandmother’s kitchen tables, because that’s simply what happens in a Balkan household. You are precariously perched on an invariably ancient kitchen stool, you watch and learn and help with certain tasks, usually endless chopping and preparation of vegetables and fruits, you know, are being given a piece of dough to knead to keep you out of trouble. And so for me cooking, you know, as a young professional in London, became a way for me to be at home anywhere in the world. So exploring and recreating and sharing my food was a way to share a part of myself with people I loved so they too could experience the tastes of my childhood and understand me and where I came from and why this Yugoslavia of my childhood or why my country now as it was, then, you know, Macedonia was so important to me, despite the fact that I’d barely lived there.

And it was a way that they too, could taste and fall in love with these flavors that were so preserved in my memories and so iconic to me. This was kind of a slow burn project that I did personally, you know, experimenting on family and friends. And then around the time COVID lockdowns began in the UK, so around March, April 2020, I started to more actively showcase the results of the project on Instagram and finally got around to starting to blog about it. And I guess here we are.

[10:25]

PETER KORCHNAK: Indeed. I actually found Janakievska and the Balkan Kitchen on Instagram, @balkankitchen.

Alright, now that our onion and leek are nicely sweated—

[10:33]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: And then you add something like cubed pancetta so obviously you would not use pancetta in the Balkans, you would use smoked meat, but that is what is more available around the world.

[10:44]

PETER KORCHNAK: I use smoked bacon, 75 grams, about a slice and a half, cut up into tiny cubes.

[10:51]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: And then you render that down to get some of the pork fat into the onions.

[AMBIENT SOUND – frying of smoked bacon]

[10:55]

PETER KORCHNAK: What recipe was it that had the birthday of yours marked next to it?

[11:00]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: It was something that is known as a princess cake. And it’s something that I still have not worked up the courage to try, because it requires skills of a trained pastry chef, which I have not yet developed. So it’s on my list of things to make. I’m just working up the courage to try it for a special occasion.

[11:20]

PETER KORCHNAK: On this sarma-making occasion—

[11:22]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: Then you add your minced meat—

[11:24]

PETER KORCHNAK: I simply follow Janakievska’s online recipe, with 200 grams of minced beef and 125 grams of minced pork.

[11:30]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: —and just let it cook, you need you need that caramelization on the meat as well rather than steaming it because if you mess about with it too much, you’ll end up it’ll end up going quite tough. And then just gently break it up and brown it.

Then you turn your heat to low, add your spices. In Macedonia we use sweet paprika a lot.

[11:49]

PETER KORCHNAK: —two tablespoons here—

[11:51]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: You can use things like Aleppo pepper or pulbiber, which is like a chili, slightly aromatic chili, in Macedonia we’d use something called Bukovo pepper. And then you add herbs of your choice: a little bit of oregano, lots of parsley, stock powder and you combine it all.

[12:08]

PETER KORCHNAK: I didn’t have the Aleppo pepper and didn’t add any chili flakes. I did use two tablespoons of finely chopped parsley, half a teaspoon of oregano, a pinch each of cumin, salt, and pepper, and for stock powder I substituted chicken stock paste.

[12:21]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: If at any point your mixture is getting a little bit too sticky or sticking to the bottom of your pan, just add water to loosen it but it doesn’t need to be a wet mixture, you just need to make sure that you’re not burning anything. Season it to your taste, making sure that you don’t really oversalt it because the cabbage leaves will be salty.

[12:40]

PETER KORCHNAK: While that’s cooking, I’m curious about the “Balkan” aspect of the Balkan Kitchen project.

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[12:44]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: As a historian at heart, I also wanted to explore the history behind the food as well.

What if my journey encompassed, exploring the cuisine of the whole Balkan region? So how about a Balkan kitchen? So the word Balkan is very complicated and its use and derivatives of it, like balkanization, have become synonymous with, you know, hatred, conflict, fragmentation, of companies even, so, following the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the wars 1990s, the stereotyping of us, the former Yugoslavs, of our region and our history was was merciless. The Balkans became synonymous with Yugoslavia, and we as Yugoslavs became defined by our conflict. So as a child of Yugoslavia, I couldn’t understand it. I had grown up in this multiethnic, multireligious, multicultural country where we could all aspire to rise above this ethnicity, religion, and political beliefs to celebrate our commonality and diversity.

And I guess, you know, my grandmother’s Veliki narodni kuvar recorded the food eaten across Yugoslavia and it seemed to me to be an example of this idealism. You know, it seemed to capture a spirit of optimism in Yugoslavia following the war. Perhaps naively, idealistically, they say, you can find yourself in any book you read. So I found my Yugoslav idealism in this cookbook.

A significant part of our identity as Yugoslavs is cooking with love for people we love so, so surely, food was one of the many ways that— is one of the many ways that we can unite and celebrate each other and embrace our respective unique cultures and identities.

[14:28]

PETER KORCHNAK: The smell of sarma filling begins to fill the kitchen with deliciousness…and promise.

Time to add the rice, about 200 grams or about a heaping cup.

[14:37]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: In the Balkans we would simply use just plain white rice. The best equivalent for this internationally would be something like risotto rice, arborio generally, or pudding rice. You just stir it through the meat and onion mixture simply just to coat it in the juices from the mixture not to cook it.

[14:55]

PETER KORCHNAK: The rice—I used arborio—will cook inside the cabbage rolls.

Now I give the mixture a quick stir to coat the raw rice with the rest of the filling.

[15:04]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: So you’ve got your mixture, your filling is cooling. Set it aside forget about it for a minute.

Now you need to prepare your cabbage leaves. If you have your own that’s perfect you can use those. If you’re using ones that come in a jar or a can or however, or in a kind of a vacuum packed is available in the UK, often I find they tend to be a little bit too salty. So what I would do is soak them in a little bit of warm water just to remove some of the brine. And so you need to be very gentle and careful with them that you don’t break up the leaves.

And select your biggest leaves. If you have bits that are in two pieces, you can combine leaves together to make one big one to roll the sarma. And then drain them after they’ve soaked, I don’t know, maybe 15 to 30 minutes. And start with your largest leaves. Aim for all them to be around the same size if you can because then they’ll cook evenly, and start adding your mixture in. Basically the idea is that you make a little parcel. You can put something like two to three tablespoons of the filling at the base of each leaf in the middle and then kind of gently roll it over and then start tucking one side, roll again, tuck in the other side, roll, making sure there’s no feeling falling out and is as tightly rolled as you can get it without breaking up the leaf.

[16:23]

PETER KORCHNAK: Out of the two jars of pickled cabbage leaves, I’ll end up with a dozen of larger sarmas, about five-six inches long, and a handful of smaller, 2-3 inchers using up the smaller leaves. It’s quite a process, so while I’m rolling the little parcels, one by one, I want to know more about Janakievska’s cookbook, Veliki narodni kuvar, or the Great National Cookbook.

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Yugoslav Cookbooks

For that background, I talked to another now-Londonite, Wendy Bracewell, a recently retired professor of 37 years at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies. One branch of her studies was food in the Balkans.

[16:54]

WENDY BRACEWELL: There’s a long tradition of cookbook production in the lands that formed Yugoslavia that goes back to the 19th century. Towards the end of the 19th century, people were already publishing in the languages of the region cookbooks, mostly derived from already existing, primarily German compendiums of recipes. So there’s a Serbian one that comes out in 1877, there’s a Croatian one that comes out earlier in 1867.

But really, cookbook production as local production gets underway in the interwar period. There’s a whole series of fabulous big compendiums meant for the practical use in the kitchen published in the 1920s and 1930s. There’s a Croatian one, published in Zagreb by Mira Vučetić in 1929 that gets revised and revised and revised. There’s a regional cookbook, a whole series of regional cookbooks, but the one that I’m most familiar with and that I cook from the most frequently is Dika Marjanović Radica’s Dalmatinska kuhinja, Dalmatian Cookery, that’s published in Split in 1939.

But I think maybe the best example of one of these big compendiums is that by Spasenija Pata Marković, Moj kuvar, as it was originally called, published in Belgrade in 1939, which is made up of recipes that was sent in by readers of the Belgrade newspaper, Politika. So it’s a real popular compendium of recipes.

Now, these are the big manuals, the big interwar manuals. But interestingly, they’re also the big postwar manuals. Publishers took these and reworked them a little bit and published them over and over and over in revisions in Yugoslavia for local audiences. That happens with Mira Vučetić’s cookbook, it happens with Dika Marjanović Radica’s cookbook, and it happens big time with Marković’s cookbook, which is the Veliki narodni kuvar. It’s republished already in 1951, after the war, with practically no changes to the text at all but the publisher leaves off the author’s name, I think, because she was the daughter of a prewar government minister so her bourgeois origins and the bourgeois origins of this cookbook were being downplayed in the circumstances of the early 50s.

In 1956, it’s rereleased under her name. I think at that point its origins were no longer of any concern.

[19:35]

PETER KORCHNAK: This is the cookbook Janakievska inherited from her grandmother and is using in her Balkan Kitchen.

[19:40]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: I believe I have what is the first edition of that particular iteration of it. So it was published by Narodna Knjiga Beograd in 1956. It’s collected and written by Spasenija Pata Marković, who was a fascinating lady. I think she was Julia Childs of the region. She used to publish recipes, starting from I think, the early 20th century and continued to do so for eight decades. The first edition of it has 4,000 plus recipes, you know, it’s nearly 1,000 pages of text, no food photography, or instructions beyond a write up.

It’s fascinating to me, because it’s not just recipes, but it’s instructions for the modern Yugoslav domačica. You know, there’s recipes, there’s advice for slimming, there’s recipes against various diseases, like heart disease, you know, what to do with herbs you can find in the region, cooking methods, and so on, clearly aimed at Balkan women and everything that you may need in your life to feed and keep your family healthy.

And it’s not just Yugoslav dishes, but you know, international too.

To me, it’s important historically, because it preserves recipes at a particular point in time. And it’s quite useful that they are delineated as national because it gives me a starting point for research. It’s one of a few reference texts and cookbooks and Balkan cuisine that I found and draw inspiration from.

[21:01]

WENDY BRACEWELL: And it’s republished many, many times, in huge, huge print runs, with the addition of recipes, with the addition of new sections of advice to the Yugoslav housewife, to the Serbian housewife really. It’s a very nice cookbook.

It’s not a Yugoslav cookbook, though, in its explicit framing. Like many of the big manuals, all of the big manuals, the authors sort of look into their neighbor’s cooking pots. But they don’t set up the cuisine that they are presenting to readers as somehow explicitly Yugoslav.

So Marković’s book has recipes for things like Zagreb tort or Bosanski lonac, but it’s only what is Serbian that she talks about as ours. So Serbian sauerkraut, there’s a nice recipe which is explicitly presented to us as Serbian, and the cook reads, “We all know that beans and sauerkraut are the basis of our national cuisine. And it’s rare to find one of our men who won’t happily consume these purely national dishes.” In practical terms, you can think about it as a Yugoslav cookbook, but not in the way that it’s framed.

[22:18]

PETER KORCHNAK: Yet even with such a detailed cookbook, the chef of today may encounter some challenges.

[22:22]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: Recipe writing 70 years ago is not what it is now. The modern rigor of writing a recipe dictates testing at least three times, sometimes more if it doesn’t work, noting grammage noting exact quantities, and noting even baking times, whereas the recipes I’ve inherited that are handwritten by my grandmother are, you know, as much flour as it needs. Or my mother told me a story about when she or somebody she knew was asking about how to make a particular pita which is a type of Balkan leaf pastry and she asked her mother, “How long do you knead it?” and her mother said “Well until it’s as soft as a baby’s bottom,” you know, or 18 soup spoons of sugar or seven to 10 eggs, you know who knows, a handful of rice and this is wonderful but it doesn’t help me and while my mother is much is much more helpful and has actually written you know certain ways she is still also very much you just have to try it and then it will come, as if it’s this mystical you know, knowledge that comes with trial and error and to a certain extent it is. You know, you do get the feel of pastry eventually and you know how long you need to knead it and then it becomes difficult even for me to describe how long something means because I’ve got the feel of it in my fingers.

I also sometimes instead of sharing a recipe, I will share the method because such a such an important part of Balkan cuisine and really the ethos of cooking is to be smart and to use whatever is available to you in a very clever way. So in a way if you know the method about or the idea of how a dish is made, you can vary it. It’s a bit like jazz, I suppose, here’s the melody, and use what you have, and riff on it. Because really growing up, what was instilled in me beyond anything was use what you have, we don’t waste food, food is so important, you have to use what you have.

The principle of a dish is the principle of a dish, and then it doesn’t make it any less, I don’t know, sarma, if you use onions instead of leeks or if you use leeks instead of onions, it’s sarma because it’s yours.

[24:30]

PETER KORCHNAK: “Yugoslav cookbooks and recipe columns were never entirely removed from political and economic realities,” Bracewell writes in her chapter on the subject in a book about consumption in Cold-War Eastern Europe. “Their expanding shopping lists of ingredients and products bear witness to gradual improvement of living standards, and to democratization of Yugoslav socialism’s version of the “good life”—not just “enough” but abundance, variety, and therefore choice, on the table as well as elsewhere….

“As supremely didactic texts, they taught the reader not just about cooking but also what it means to be a woman, a mother, and a worker; about how to behave in society; about belonging and difference. While proclaiming the equality of women under socialism, at the same time they naturalized cooking as women’s work, reinforcing the double burden of work and domestic responsibility by celebrating cooking as a labor of love and a fulfilling leisure pastime, even promoting shopping and cooking as a means of self-definition.

“Cookbooks published in socialist Yugoslavia thus provide an index to some of the intentions, aspirations, and contradictions of Yugoslav self-managing socialism. In showing the reader how socialism’s promises were being turned into easy, healthy, varied, and happy meals—to use the vocabulary of the genre—cookbooks helped legitimate the system that put all this bounty on the table.” End quote.

There were a host of reasons why Yugoslavia did not push the ideology of Yugoslavism in food.

[25:50]

WENDY BRACEWELL: The choice not to pitch specifically a Yugoslav cuisine is tied to what’s going on in the political sphere. It has to do with the unresolved question of what brotherhood and unity means. Brotherhood is fine, it’s the equal rights of all Yugoslav nations, but what exactly is unity? Is that going to be convergence under a single overarching culture? And that filters through even to the politics of cookbooks. It’s something to be cautious about pitching to a pan-Yugoslav audience something that’s called Yugoslav cuisine.

[26:25]

PETER KORCHNAK: “Apparently the Yugoslav kitchen was not equipped with a melting pot,” Bracewell quips.

[26:30]

WENDY BRACEWELL: This is also slightly inflected by the way that publishing worked, with publishing houses operating effectively on the territory of their republics. So they’re pitching even their cookbooks to a local audience with local tastes.

[26:45]

PETER KORCHNAK: “Cookbooks aimed at a domestic audience were becoming increasingly national—or even nationalist,” writes Bracewell. “Though they operated within the framework of Yugoslav brotherhood and unity in the kitchen, they also acted as manuals of everyday nationalism, labeling and systematizing recipes on a national basis—constituting difference at the same time they made it familiar and accessible. They even brought nationalist politics into the kitchen, with recipes that made cooking dinner a matter of defending tradition and resisting assimilation…since it was difficult to distinguish completely between (protected) expressions of cultural nationhood and (prohibited) expressions of political nationalism. What this meant was that culture frequently became political even in cookbooks, given the role attributed to food and kitchen in creating and maintaining national identity.”

[27:29]

WENDY BRACEWELL: It’s fair to say that right across the territory of Yugoslavia, there are different cuisines, there are local tastes. And you could say that there was a sort of practical Yugoslavism in the kitchen that developed over the whole history of Yugoslavia that was based around global foods like pizza—everybody ate pizza—or industrial food products that you could get in markets anywhere. Or, and this is the way that I see it the most fondly, in these great big compendiums that were basically a single local cuisine, but filled with clippings from magazines or newspapers, or recipes that your friends have given you, that come from all over the place. Whatever caught cook’s eye, you know, a Belgrade housewife goes to Dubrovnik and learns how to make kotonjada, that quince paste that that Dubrovnik is so known for, and writes it all down carefully, comes home and tucks it into her copy of Veliki narodni kuvar. Now that’s a Yugoslav cookbook.

[28:34]

PETER KORCHNAK: “[D]espite the existence of a Yugoslav state, a framework for Yugoslav communication, a mobile, urbanizing population, and a growing middle class, there was no such thing as a culinary literature framed explicitly as Yugoslav, for a Yugoslav audience,” Bracewell writes.

By contrast, cookbooks for the foreign market were indeed called Yugoslav.

[28:53]

WENDY BRACEWELL: What’s happening is that the publishers have a different market and they don’t have to be quite so cautious with their politics either. If you’re selling Yugoslavism to foreigners, that’s not going to cause any difficulty at home.

My favorite of these Yugoslav cookbooks explicitly called, Yugoslav Cookbook, is one that was published first in the 60s in a multilingual edition that was marketed very explicitly as a souvenir to tourists. It’s got this charming cover of a group of people sitting around the table. It’s a caricature by Zuko Džumhur, just really lovely. Each couple in their national costume, you know, reaching for different plates of food across the table. And inside, there’s a little essay that explains the history of Yugoslavia to the foreign tourist. It’s not just a history of Yugoslavia and its cooking, it’s, you know, we have these republics, we speak these languages, this is, you know, we are leaders of the nonaligned movement. You know, this is the very short text that is going to tell you what you need to know about Yugoslavia. And then it has recipes broken up according to the nations and nationalities. And most of the recipes are taken from Spasenija Pata Marković’s Narodni kuvar, but there are some from other places as well. It’s really, it’s really nicely done. That’s a representative Yugoslavism.

There’s another Yugoslav cookbook by Tito’s head chef for many years, Olga Novak Marković. Very interesting, published in English, trying to produce a sort of more integrated Yugoslav cuisine. Mostly, you know, what is pan-Yugoslav, it’s mostly vegetable dishes and from my point of view, the insistence on eating bread with every single meal. It’s a cultural Yugoslavism that’s much more integrated and that fits with her being Tito’s head chef, as Tito is really the figurehead of this kind of cultural Yugoslavism.

How you present yourself to the outside world was definitely what these Yugoslav cookbooks produced for a foreign language market were for. There’s another one, by Liljana Bisenić, that was explicitly produced in order to give to Fulbright scholars and people either coming to Yugoslavia or going from Yugoslavia, so that they could cook the traditional stuff that would that would bring Yugoslavia to the tables of foreigners.

[31:20]

PETER KORCHNAK: “What emerges from all of these texts,” writes Bracewell, “is a recognizably politicized version of culinary Yugoslavism, from the carefully decentralized cuisines of the 1960s, in a period when Yugoslav unitarism was under attack, to the more integrated recipe books of the 1980s, when Yugoslavism on the political level seemed to be eroding. But it is telling that it was primarily foreign audiences who were imagined as having an appetite for an explicitly “Yugoslav” cuisine.”

Most importantly—

[31:47]

WENDY BRACEWELL: All of these cookbooks, they are solid culinary manuals. You can cook from the recipes and the dishes come out. They are not just to be looked at, you know, they are meant to be used in the kitchen. And I really value that, I think that’s really very important.

[32:04]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: There’s another really good example, from ‘94, I think, it’s Maria Kaneva Johnson’s The Melting Pot: Balkan Food and Cookery. And that’s also a fascinating look, because what she did was travel in the late 80s, I believe, in early 90s, across the region—she covers Bulgaria as well and a little bit of Romania and Albania—and collect recipes that she found. So it’s a very useful tool to me, because I draw inspiration from these, and then I go away and research it, and see where I can find, you know, the commonality and celebrate that commonality and say, “Look, you know, yes, we make this in Macedonia but it’s also made in Serbia, but in Serbia, it’s different because of the availability of the ingredients historically. Macedonia grows sunflower, so we use more sunflower oil; in Serbia, there’s quite a lot of focus on pork rearing, so you would probably use pork fat, but in essence, it’s very similar and why don’t we just celebrate the fact that we all eat, you know, sarma on topic.

[33:03]

WENDY BRACEWELL: And there are wonderful cookbooks being produced now, again, you know, usually slightly more on local, national but not nationalist lines for a domestic market and for foreigners. So I really like Zlatko Gauss’s various Dalmatian cookbooks, some of which come with CDs of klapa in them so you have something to listen to while you’re cooking.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – Excerpt of “Cvijet čežnje” by Klapa Cambi]

Andrea Pisac who’s produced a wonderful book of Croatian desserts in English very explicitly as an active cultural ambassadorship to the rest of the world which has has terrific recipes that turn out extremely well.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – “Ay Gyorushitse” (Part I) by Gogofski]

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[35:16]

PETER KORCHNAK: Alright, so all my sarmas are rolled and stacked on a plate. I’m preheating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, just over 170 Celsius.

[35:24]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: We need something like a large casserole dish or like a cast iron or a Dutch oven.

[35:29]

PETER KORCHNAK: I’m using a large Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot my wife inherited from her grandmother.

[35:34]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: At the base of that drizzle a little bit of oil and any off cuts you have from the leaves, put half of the off cuts at the base and then arrange your sarma as tightly as you can I and then you will put any meat you have in between it, [a] little bit of smoked pork ribs or smoked beef ribs or any kind of smoked meat you have, some people use smoked sausages for example. Some people can just use two or three slices of pancetta.

[36:03]

PETER KORCHNAK: I use small slices of smoked bacon.

[36:06]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: Pack it in tightly in one layer and then do the same again layer on top of it. And then over all of it sprinkle one tablespoon of peppercorns, whole ones, three to four bay leaves, and a sprinkle more of paprika, and then any leaves you have left over cover at the top. If you don’t have enough leaves left over, you can use something like baking parchment, place that over the top add lots of water to completely cover the sarma, and put a heat proof plate inside over the sarma because this is going to keep them in place.

[36:40]

PETER KORCHNAK: Having few leftover cabbage leaves, even fragments, I cover my sarma with parchment paper cut into a circle and weigh it down with a lid from a smaller pot.

[36:49]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: Put on your lid and put it in the oven and cook it for as long as you can leave it.

[36:53]

PETER KORCHNAK: How long? Janakievska’s recipe calls for four to six hours. I end up cooking it for five.

[36:59]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: As it cooks you have to periodically check it, every hour, hour and a half, to make sure that it never loses moisture so you may need to just keep topping up with boiling water.

[37:09]

PETER KORCHNAK: I put a baking sheet underneath the sarma pot to catch any boilover liquid. Through the five hours my sarma cooks I add water to top off the pot twice.

While the sarma cooks, I ask Janakievska about something in her life’s story that strikes me as particularly poignant.

It sounds like wars of different kind marked your life in various ways. You know, the junctures in your life story, life’s journey. You study Cold War. What’s the relationship of food to war, if you can speculate on that?

[37:37]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: We left Yugoslavia in the late 80s because my mother with great foresight saw what was coming, almost predicted it, and said, we need to leave for a better life, you know. There were terrible shortages of food of, you know, energy. The nationalist movements were emerging in the respective republics. So we moved abroad, and it was, I suppose, very difficult, as it always is, when you leave the place of your birth.

So fast forward to the early 90s, in Kuwait, which became our adopted home, I remember, the invasion started on the second of August in 1990. Quite a lot of Yugoslavs, the only way they could get back was to drive back from Kuwait to Yugoslavia so they organized effectively a caravan of cars to all drive back to Yugoslavia and went via Iraq. And it’s unbelievable that, you know, we’re talking 1990 here, they were driving through Iraq, the invading country of Kuwait, and on the border they were asked, you know, where are you from? They said, well, we’re from Yugoslavia. “Ah, Tito, no problem, go.” And the Iraqis let them pass through rock without any harm, you know. So it’s extraordinary, the power of what the idea of Yugoslavia was, and in that moment saved their lives effectively.

When we were back in Macedonia and as the as the fragmentation of Yugoslavia was ongoing, I remember starting school and suddenly having to quickly learn Macedonian because although I spoke it, I went to an English school, and so suddenly had to quickly learn so I could enter the second grade in school. The books were still Yugoslavia, the history of Yugoslavia, and then obviously, by the next year, all the books changed. And suddenly you were learning instead of Yugoslav history and Tito, you were learning about Macedonia, and you know, the history of Macedonia, so there are those direct, almost ridiculous things to remember from war.

Macedonia was different in that we were, we were lucky, we escaped the worst of the conflict in the early 90s. So there was no direct impact other than economic and political impact, and the fact that we still had to live abroad, because there was no sustainable economy to support within Macedonia at the time.

When we then went back to Kuwait, you know, my mother had had to leave all our belongings behind, you know, memories, photos, books, and I thought, where are all my things? What’s happened? Who’s taken them?

Fast forward to 2001, when I was due to start University, you know, there was effectively a civil war in Macedonia. Although I was abroad, you know, I was thinking, do I go to university in Macedonia? Or do I stay abroad? Am I committed to living outside my home forever? And that question was almost taken out of my hands in a way because we didn’t know at the time how that was going to develop or play out.

I don’t know if that answers your question, but the direct impact is that it pivots you out of necessity for the rest of your life.

[40:47]

PETER KORCHNAK: Then the pandemic hits.

[40:48]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: I often talk to friends and family about the impact of early COVID and lockdowns where we suddenly found ourselves in London in 2020 not being able to find milk in the supermarkets. And that immediately transported me back to that early 90s, you know, late 80s, early 90s in Yugoslavia where I remember my grandmother going out at two in the morning to go queue at the shop in order to buy milk. And I hadn’t realized it, that there was that almost suppressed memory or, you know, that you you are effectively triggered in some way, that food was above all the most important thing and you had to go and find some food to feed your family. I went into full Balkan mother mode in terms of procuring and sourcing food to feed my family. It seems a completely ridiculous comparison, because lockdown was nothing like a war but that is the effect of a memory in a way.

[41:47]

PETER KORCHNAK: With Balkan Kitchen you are teaching yourself how to cook like your grandmother and mother to some degree. So how are you doing with that? How far along are you?

[41:57]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: The project has essentially led me to seek a change of career really. So again, in late lockdown last year, I ended up going to culinary school. I suddenly understood why certain things were done the way they were. It’s been eye opening and I’m on a constant learning journey.

It started with a very simple aim of, I simply wanted people to fall in love with the Balkans and its people as much as I am. And then it progressed into wanting to preserve Balkan culinary knowledge in a way that I was just not finding in the cookbooks or I was finding but it was difficult for me to interpret in a way that would work with a modern lifestyle. So I wanted to preserve the knowledge, I want to reference it, I want people to come on this journey with me of exploring the region’s unique culture, its history and heritage, which I truly believe are most incredibly and beautifully preserved in the cuisine.

And like me, there is a huge Balkan diaspora around the world who will have grown up with this beautiful home-cooked Balkan cuisine and their memories of the food they ate, but they will either not have the knowledge or the confidence to recreate it or simply they would not know how to recreate it with ingredients that are available internationally. I guess they, like myself, will find themselves missing that taste of home or their childhood but without access to ingredients or without the modern recipes or the passed-down knowledge of making certain classic dishes, but they would still like to keep their memories and heritage alive and pass it down to their families.

[43:32]

PETER KORCHNAK: There is, in fact, a growing market for Balkan cuisine in the United Kingdom.

[43:35]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: There’s also more in terms of companies that supply Balkan products and that to me is indicative of the fact that people are more interested in the cuisine and therefore there is a market for these businesses to deliver Balkan products nationwide in the UK, so that’s quite fascinating to me.

[43:54]

PETER KORCHNAK: There’s the Serbian-owned specialist Balkan food shop (Magaza), a Croatian-owned specialist food shop (Taste of Croatia), producers from the region exporting to the UK such as the Macedonian Mamas Foods, and numerous restaurants, food trucks, bakeries, grocery stores, and other food related businesses run by ex- Yugoslavs.

My next guest recently wrote a lovely article, titled “Yugonostalgic Cuisine,” in a substack called Vittles about her own relationship with Yugoslavia and Yugoslav food.

Yugonostalgic Cuisine

Natasha Tripney is a journalist and theater critic based in London. She is also member of a family of Serbian immigrants to the UK who in the 1960s and 70s ran Anglo Yugoslav Restaurant and Club in Notting Hill.

[44:30]

NATASHA TRIPNEY: As its name suggested, it served sort of English food, fried breakfasts and greasy spoon kind of food to mostly the sort of local market traders on Portobello market. And then additionally, it served Yugoslav dishes, traditional dishes to this to the ex-Serb community there who wanted a taste of the country that they left behind.

And in addition to being a restaurant, it was also a kind of social space or kind of clubs. So down in underneath the cafe itself, there was a sort of basement bar, I guess, a drinking den for mostly Yugoslav men, I’d say of that generation who’d come to London after the Second World War.

My mother ended up coming to London much later, she came in the 60s, and she was a waitress there. She lived there for a time. By the time I was born, she no longer lived in London, she no longer worked at the cafe, but it was very so it was her first experience of coming to the UK, it’s where she first worked when she arrived in the country. And it was very sort of pivotal to her sense of identity and her journey as an immigrant coming to London. And it’s always a space that has sort of held an object of sort of fascination for me, like I was really interested in both it as a business as a restaurant and the community that it served and its sort of place in our family history as well.

[45:48]

PETER KORCHNAK: “After…my mother left London,” Tripney writes, “[she] lost touch with the Yugoslav community. We did not go to church. We did not speak Serbo-Croat at home. The main connecting thread to the place where she grew up was the food she cooked; she maintained a link to Yugoslavia in her kitchen.”

[46:03]

NATASHA TRIPNEY: The thing that was really sort of a formative part of my sense of identity of being not English, of being from Yugoslavia, was all the food that we ate that sort of marked us apart. Particular dishes, so sarma is one of those it was very sort of central meal growing up, prebranac, gibanica, various stuffed things, stuffed peppers, and stuffed courgettes. So all of these dishes were sort of central to my sort of sense of who I was growing up, what we ate, it was different to what my friends ate and while I didn’t didn’t speak the language and I wasn’t part of diaspora community, the food that we ate was so central to our sort of sense of Yugoslav identity.

[46:45]

PETER KORCHNAK: The location of Anglo Yugoslav Restaurant and Club is now a Greek restaurant.

[46:49]

NATASHA TRIPNEY: It feels that there’s a tradition has been maintained. And in some ways or at least it hasn’t sort of ventured too far from what it was in the 60s. And I sat and had a glass of wine there and it was, it was quite nice to sort of have that sense of connection to my family’s past.

[47:04]

PETER KORCHNAK: Tripney points out a relative lack of Balkan restaurants, even in London. She writes, “Unusually…the influx of new immigrants in the 1990s did not result in a wave of new restaurants being opened, and in London ex-Yu food is now relatively scarce….no one is really going out to eat Serbian or Macedonian—not even Serbs and Macedonians themselves.”

I wonder why that is.

[47:25]

NATASHA TRIPNEY: In London, there seems to be a combination of factors. It’s still regarded as for a lot of people as a home cuisine, it’s something that you have for your slava, it’s something that you make at home, it’s something that people cook for each other, but not necessarily something that people go out to eat.

It’s strange, because there is in London, we have so many Turkish restaurants, we have so many Greek restaurants and it seems odd to me that even though these are food cuisines that overlap with Balkan cuisine, that there aren’t that many, or if any, at all.

There’s a handful that I am sort of discovered there’s Peckham Bazaar, which is run by an Albanian chef, which sort of is pan Balkan, there’s a few more recent sort of pop ups and startups, so there’s Mystic Burek which is Spasja Dunković’s online Instagram burek business, which has become a huge kind of hits over the last year or so. I’ve just been speaking to a Bulgarian chef who started his own restaurant in Margate. So there’s sort of the wider Balkan cuisine is represented but specifically ex-Yugoslav restaurants, there are hardly any at all.

And I think it’s both that sense that this is home cooking and it hasn’t sort of moved outside of people’s kitchens into the restaurant environment and also, I think the sort of complexity of what happened with the war means that people who were coming here in the 90s had many other sort of more pressing sort of things to deal with and starting up restaurants was was not something that people were doing then and have not done since.

[48:56]

PETER KORCHNAK: “[T]he wars of the 1990s…also marked the end of something that many people had believed in,” writes Tripney. “The loss of a homeland, the brutal shattering of ideals, was hard to process. With friends and family going hungry during the years of siege and sanctions, is it any wonder there was scant appetite for opening restaurants, even after the war had ended?”

In the past few years, or should I say pandemic years, as Tripney already mentioned and as Janakievska exemplifies, Balkan cuisine has been experiencing something of a revival.

[49:23]

NATASHA TRIPNEY: There is a shift amongst a younger generation who are sort of interested in sort of celebrating and showcasing their food in a restaurant environment, or via sort of Instagram, via this sort of new shift towards sort of pop up businesses. And I do think we’re probably going to see more of it. But at the moment, it feels like that’s very much sort of the beginnings of a scene rather than anything that’s sort of fully developed.

I think it is a generational shift. I think it’s people wanting to introduce their friends, wanting to introduce their partners to something that is part of their culture and where they come from. It’s also wanting to retain some things the past. I think it’s very clear talking to Spasja that she wanted to honor her grandmother’s recipes and the recipes of the women in her family. And you know, as that generation gets older, and started to die, you wanted to sort of keep something of them and that history, and food is one way that we can do that, that we can hold on to the past, and that we can sort of maintain that continuum with the past.

For me, as well, I think that was pressing sort of awareness that the all of that generation after the war who’d come over to the UK, they were none of them left. And that’s a whole generation gone now. And it’s wanting to sort of maintain their stories, their experiences, their history. And one way of doing that is through food. I think it’s a very powerful and evocative way of tying you to the past and a way that feels, perhaps slightly easier to sort of celebrate and invest in because it’s not as political as some other things, it’s a much more easier thing to celebrate, I think, because there’s just joy in sharing dishes exploring different flavors, regional differences, and you can sort of take some real pleasure in that and you can tell a story through food.

[51:00]

PETER KORCHNAK: Yugonostalgia. You don’t have a lived experience in Yugoslavia, right. You were born and raised in the UK. You know, obviously you visit Serbia and so on, but you don’t have that. Yet you do write in your article [that] you often succumb to Yugonostalgia. So how can you be nostalgic for something you don’t know?

[51:15]

NATASHA TRIPNEY: That’s a very good question. I think when I say sort of succumb to the idea of it, rather than the thing itself. There’s something quite seductive and something quite comforting about the idea of what Yugoslavia was or ostensibly, or superficially, at least, was trying to be and to do. I’m well aware that it’s a much more complicated story but to sort of blindly be nostalgic for something that you’ve never experienced is a quite naive sort of way of looking at the world.

It’s a phrase that is useful, but also sort of, is also quite reductive, I find. But it definitely does encapsulate a sort certain feeling are a sort of wish for all of the things that were the best parts of that idea, the idea of brotherhood, the idea of mutual respect and cultural cooperation, and all of those things that I value, and it’s, it’s finding solace in that.

[52:01]

PETER KORCHNAK: “[M]y understanding of what Yugoslavia was has evolved,” writes Tripney. “For a long time, I felt a shifting mix of guilt and shame—Serbs felt like the villains of the world for a time in the 1990s—coupled with a sense of failure for, as a vegetarian who barely spoke the language, not being Serbian enough. Even today it feels hard to walk a line between celebrating my heritage and rejecting the nationalism that taints it…”

[52:24]

NATASHA TRIPNEY: Because I spent increasing amounts of time sort of traveling between London and Belgrade, I am just wary of the sort of the increase of nationalism and sort of myth building that is going on. It’s a complicated heritage, and it’s sort of difficult line to walk. And I think that the more time I spend over there, the more my sort of sense of where I come from shifts and changes and it’s an ongoing process. It’s just being active in your thinking and always asking questions, I think that’s very important in in locating yourself and your sense of self.

[52:54]

PETER KORCHNAK: Tripney’s mother returned to Serbia in 2016, after over 50 years of living in the UK. Through the lockdown-era conversations with her in her Belgrade apartment, Tripney realized that, quote, “as Aleksandar Hemon has written, displacement is never just geographic: it’s temporal too. Food can help bridge that gap—the smell of hob-blackened peppers from the local green market, a curl of kajmak melting into a fresh, fluffy lepinje—but in the end, food can only do so much; it cannot heal every wound, or bring back something that has been lost.”

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – “Ay Gyorushitse” (Part II) by Gogofski]

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[54:32]

PETER KORCHNAK: After five hours in the oven, the sarma is done. Almost.

[54:36]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: Ideally you would cook it kind of the night before and then let it rest overnight and have it the next day because the flavor develops lovely.

Turn off the oven heat, leave it in the oven, provided you can contend with your whole house smelling of sarma.

[54:50]

PETER KORCHNAK: That’s the hardest part. If I thought that obtaining the pickled cabbage leaves or making something that resembled the shape of sarma was difficult, it is waiting until the next day that nearly does me in. But wait I do and regret it I don’t.

Meanwhile, Janakievska has her sights set on telling the stories and histories of Balkan food.

[55:07]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: And of course there is an ulterior motive which is that you know, as I’ve gone through this journey of going from a lawyer to training to be a chef naturally my path is pivoting perhaps towards food writing. And is the dream a Balkan Kitchen cookbook yes it’s become so very much and if there’s any publishers out there listening to this wonderful podcast, get in touch.

[55:30]

PETER KORCHNAK: The very word Balkan itself is up for a reheating, so to speak.

[55:34]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: Here is a dish that you will find across the Balkan region, and I see my project as more Balkan because it gives me liberty to truly explore the extent or the limit of where this dish this particular dish has gone to, and why it’s gone to there.

Bosnian or Macedonian cuisine will have a lot of Turkish influence. Why because the Ottoman Empire was present longer in Bosnia and Macedonia. Croatian food in the north, it’s more likely to have more of a Hungarian influence. Again, why? Because the Habsburg Empire. Dalmatia, for example, even in Croatia, it’s completely different Dalmatian, cuisine, again, because Dalmatia was more associated with Venice. And so Dalmatian food is more of a Mediterranean cuisine where you have a focus on olive oil, perhaps more meat than Mediterranean food because of its nexus to northern parts of Croatia and to Serbia.

That’s how I think of the Balkan region, I suppose. And I try and extrapolate the dish from the political and the national appropriation, and just report on what I find, without any judgment, you know, hopefully, without any cultural appropriation, simply with the joy of, “Here something interesting I found about this dish, and isn’t it wonderful that we share this dish and why don’t we just celebrate the fact that we all would find a commonality by all of us eating the same dish?

I always find it troubling the use of the term Balkan as the Other, you know, the bloodthirsty Balkans. Rather grandiosely I’m trying to reappropriate the term through food and show, “No, we are just people and, you know, there’s a commonality here.” You know, the effect of me having lived around the world is that I see so much cross-cultural fertilization in food, you know. I find commonality between the food we cook in the region with food in the Middle East. And, you know, that’s a wonderful example of how food has traveled, and how history connects all of us in a way that we don’t realize until you look into the particular history of a dish.

Our cuisine is so complex, it’s very nuanced and I truly believe it’s one of the most unique and underexplored crossroads of cuisines in the world. You know, we combine ancient and modern Balkan cooking techniques, you know, cooking techniques that go back 1000s of years, and you know, we’ve got these historical connections with an influences across the world, so Slavic, European, Caucasian, Turkish, Middle Easternen as I mentioned, Persian. It’s truly, I really believe, one of the original fusion cuisines.

[58:11]

PETER KORCHNAK: The flavors fused overnight, the next day I prepare sarma for lunch. There’s one final, albeit optional step before it goes on the table.

[58:18]

IRINA JANAKIEVSKA: What you can do is add something called, we call zaprška, which is kind of a flavored oil. Some people add flour, in my family we don’t. Just heat a couple of tablespoons of, of oil, usually olive oil or sunflower oil, get it searingly hot, add a tablespoon of paprika or or if you’d like it spicy, chili flakes or, as I said, Aleppo pepper or pul biber, and as soon as it hits the oil and starts to sizzle take it off the heat and let it finish sizzling.

And then you just you know remove the plate, remove the paper, remove the leaves, pour the oil over the top layer of the sarma and put it back in the oven under a broiler or a grill so that gives you a little bit of crispy paprika oil on top.

And then you enjoy it with lots of bread, lots of salad, good wine and bemoan why you only made a small batch.

[59:17]

PETER KORCHNAK: I make this zaprška, essentially a simplified rue, for two servings of sarma, one for me, one for my wife Lindsay. Later we have the sarma without this extra and it’s both simpler and not as oily. Slices of crusty bread go with the sarma well and sop up the tasty juices. A dollop of sour cream cuts the tang of pickled cabbage. And, to add that lovely Pacific Northwest flavor, a glass of a West Coast IPA to wash it all down.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – “Ay Gyorushitse” (Part III) by Gogofski]

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[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Chiperlika” by Gogofski]

Yugoslav cuisine - Sarma

[01:00:46]

PETER KORCHNAK: Alright, let’s eat!

First a toast, with quince rakija I got in Vancouver, BC, on the same road trip as the cabbage leaves.

LINDSAY SAUVE: Živeli!

PETER KORCHNAK: Na zdravie!

And prijatno! Bon appetit! Dobrú chuť!

Let’s see here, first impressions.

LINDSAY SAUVE: Oh wow. It’s really good. It tastes like a country I want to belong to.

PETER KORCHNAK: [LAUGHS]

LINDSAY SAUVE: It’s soft, very savory, it’s got a tang because of the pickled cabbage leaves. So it’s got all the right elements. It definitely tastes Europe.

PETER KORCHNAK: You heard it here first, folks: sarma, tastes European.

LINDSAY SAUVE: It actually doesn’t matter, my husband made me a complicated dish from scratch for lunch, so… [LAUGHS] I think we need to go work in the fields after this though.

What do you think?

PETER KORCHNAK: Mmm-mmm-mmm. I’m quite impressed with myself. Very good recipe, this is just amazing. I would never have thought that I would be able to make this, not being a chef.

LINDSAY SAUVE: Peter, you’re hired.

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[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Chunovo” by Gogofski]

[01:02:13]

PETER KORCHNAK: I enjoyed the sarma for two additional meals. There’s something about making a lot of food that you can eat for days that feels like home to me.

I’ve only started on my journey of cooking Balkan food—prior to sarma I made burek, gibanica, ćevapi, and tulumbe—but Janakievska’s recipe is the first one I’ll keep. It’s just that good. In fact, since I spoke with her I made another dish from her Balkan Kitchen, spinach risotto, and it’s a keeper, too. I might just have to work my way through the entire website…

I used to think food is fuel, until I traveled around the world and discovered food as a way to not just engage all the senses but also to get to know a place, a culture. Food is now fuel for thought, so to speak.

So it is with the cuisines of the former Yugoslavia, with Balkan food. The fusions, the connections, the influences, they all constitute a culinary journey through the region’s complicated, convoluted history, an insight into its cultures, and, which is valuable especially nowadays, a way to travel without having to leave your home.

So let’s cook, let’s eat, and let’s be merry.

[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Rainmaker” by Petar Alargić]

[01:03:28]

PETER KORCHNAK: Next on Remembering Yugoslavia:

IVO GOLDSTEIN: The problem is that some people think that Yugoslavia was very good during its history and then at the end of the day some bad guys came and destroyed it.

PETER KORCHNAK: Yugoslavia was a country that lasted for 73 years. On the next episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, we’ll get to the absolute basics with historian Ivo Goldstein. In a bonus episode Professor Goldstein will give an overview of the ups and downs of Yugoslavia’s history.

Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out.

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[OUTRO MUSIC – “Jugoslavijo / Od Vardara pa do Triglava” by Horn Orchestra]

[01:04:08]

PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening. Find additional information and the transcript of this episode at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.

If you liked this episode and if you like the podcast and want to hear more, consider supporting it, and me in making it, with a generous donation. Visit RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate and choose from one of the options to make a monthly or one-time contribution.

Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić. Additional music used for educational purposes courtesy of Adela Peeva and Klapa Cambi. Music by Gogofski and Petar Alargić licensed under Creative Commons. Special thanks to Lindsay Sauvé.

I am Peter Korchňak.

Prijatno!

Additional Sources

Wendy Bracewell. “Eating Up Yugoslavia: Cookbooks and Consumption in Socialist Yugoslavia.” In: Paulina Bren and Mary Neuburger, eds. Communism Unwrapped: Consumption in Cold War Eastern Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012